SALT - Sunday, 17 Adar 5778 - March 4, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Vayakhel (38:3) lists several different sets of utensils that were made in conjunction with the altar outside the Mishkan, including the “mizrakot.”  Rashi (27:3) explains that this refers to the containers that were used for collecting the blood of sacrifices after the animal was slaughtered, and then for transporting the blood to the altars.
            The Mishna in Masekhet Pesachim (64a), amidst its description of the offering of the nation’s paschal sacrifices on the eve of Pesach, mentions that the containers were specifically made in a manner that they could not stand on their own.  These utensils grew narrower from the top down, and had pointed bottoms, such that they were unable to stand.  The reason for this shape, the Mishna explains, is to prevent the kohanim from putting the containers on the ground after the blood is collected, before it is sprinkled and poured as is required.  The concern was that if the kohanim put the container down to rest, the blood would congeal and thus be unable to be sprinkled.  The containers were thus constructed in such a manner that prevented the kohanim from putting them down before completing the process. 
            Rav Ovadya of Bartenura, in his commentary to this Mishna, explains, “They were wide on top and their bottoms were pointed so that they could not sit on the ground, lest the kohanim place them to sit on the ground until they collect other blood, since there were many [sacrifices], and they will forget them and the blood would congeal.”  It seems from this explanation that this concern arose specifically on Pesach eve, when, as the Mishna there describes, there was a frenzy of activity in the Temple courtyard, as the entire nation offered their pesach sacrifices.  The kohanim would likely be overwhelmed by the thousands of sacrifices to which they needed to attend, and there was thus the concern that a kohen might put down a container a blood while he collects blood from other sacrifices, and then forget about the first container of blood, which would congeal in the interim.  One might assume, then, that the containers used on other occasions in the Beit Ha-mikdash did not have to be this shape.
            Whether or not this was indeed the intent of Rav Ovadya of Bartenura, the Gemara later (64b) cites a passage from the Tosefta (Menachot 11:7) which clearly indicates otherwise.  The Tosefta comments that all containers used in the Mikdash were made with pointed bottoms, except the bowls used to hold the frankincense which was added to the lechem ha-panim (showbread).  This would certainly suggest that the Mishna’s remark regarding the containers used for the blood of the paschal sacrifice applied to all the sacrifices.  Likewise, the Midrash Ha-gadol identifies the “mizrakot” mentioned in the Torah as containers used for collecting sacrificial blood, and adds that they were made with pointed bottoms so that the kohanim could not put them down.  This, too, implies that all the containers were made this way, and not only the containers used for the paschal offering.
            On a symbolic level, this halakha might perhaps serve to instruct about the importance of focus and attentiveness when tending to a task.  Just as Chazal were concerned that a kohen might leave and then neglect a sacrifice’s blood to go tend to a different sacrifice, we are likewise prone to being distracted and losing focus.  Life – and certainly Torah life – imposes upon us many different demands and obligations, and it is certainly important to be mindful of the full range of responsibilities that require our attention.  At the same time, however, we must try to ensure that this range of responsibilities does not lead us to neglect the responsibility to which we tend at any given moment.  Even as we seek to be mindful of the our many different obligations, we must give each one our full attention and fulfill it to the best of our ability.